This Makes No Sense: US To Ban Laptops On All Flights From Europe
from the yes,-but-wait-what? dept
Earlier this year we wrote about the nonsensical move by the Department of Homeland Security to ban laptops and tablets in the cabin on flights from a bunch of cities in the Middle East. The rumored reason was discoveries that terrorists had learned how to make bombs out of laptops. As we noted, this made almost no sense at all when you challenged any of the assumptions. But, never let logic and reason get in the way of a bit of inane security theater. Because now Homeland Security is about to announce that it’s now banning laptops in the cabins on all flights from Europe (it’s unclear if this will also apply on flights from the US to Europe, but it seems likely that European airports will reciprocate).
While this does answer one of the questions raised by the original ban (“why won’t potential terrorists just fly out of other countries?”) it still raises a host of other questions. Again: why won’t this apply to flights from other countries? Or domestic flights? Or all flights? But, really, that just raises an even larger issue, which is that if you want to protect 100% of all flights 100% of the time from ever having a problem in which people might die, the answer is ground all flights and never let anyone fly anywhere ever. Problem solved. Of course, the cost of such a solution would be horrendous — which is why we don’t do it. But that’s the key issue: all of these things involve tradeoffs. All too frequently, it appears that government officials — especially those on the national security side of things — don’t care at all about the tradeoffs. They just care about blocking any possible attack no matter how unlikely or how remote the chance of such an attack might be, and without any consideration of the costs and inconveniences to everyone else. And, yes, it’s reasonable to point out that a single attack would be very, very costly as well. And there’s clearly a reason to protect heavily against attacks. But there’s still a balance.
And there must be a better solution. If laptops are a risk factor, it’s difficult to see how putting them in the cargo hold — where there’s no one to stop a fire — is a better solution. Hell, most current airline rules require passengers to store all lithium ion batteries in carry-on luggage for exactly that reason. Putting them all in the hold would seem to increase the risk of accidental explosions and fires that might cause just as much, if not more, damage. And, of course, forcing people to give up their laptops has a secondary (but very serious) problem: for anyone traveling with sensitive information (lawyers, doctors, reporters, business execs, public officials, etc.) giving up your laptop is a massive security risk.
In other words, the “cost” of this solution is ridiculously high for a very large number of people, for whom flying to or from Europe has just become a massive inconvenience and tremendously problematic to justify given the personal risk. And for what? Vague and unclear threats about “possible” exploding laptops? I’m sure that no one wants to be on a flight with a laptop that will explode (whether on purpose or not), but there has to be a better way to tackle the problem than doing a blanket ban on laptops in the cabin. And, yes, perhaps this sounds like saying nerd harder back to Homeland Security, but this is a case where there clearly are more reasonable tradeoffs that can and should be explored, well short of inconveniencing everyone and creating a very different (but very serious) kind of security threat by forcing people to give up their laptops.